Private remarks between U.S. President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev, that were broadcast near the end of a meeting in Seoul have set off a media firestorm.
The live-mic moment came as they discussed one of the most sensitive points in U.S.-Russian relations: missile defense.
In the video that has emerged (below), Obama suggests that he'll bring more "flexibility" to the table once he and Russian President-elect Vladimir Putin sit down to discuss U.S. missile defense, which is fiercely opposed by Moscow.
has posted a video of the final exchange in the conversation, with no specific reference to missile defense. But here's their transcript suggesting that was the topic:
President Obama: On all these issues, but particularly missile defense, this, this can be solved but it's important for him to give me space.
WATCH the ABC News video:
President Medvedev: Yeah, I understand. I understand your message about space. Space for you.
President Obama: This is my last election. After my election, I have more flexibility.
President Medvedev: I understand. I [will] transmit this information to Vladimir.
For Obama, there's potential danger in his perceived certainty of victory in November's election and his suggestion that he might deal more benevolently with Moscow. Neither is likely to go over well with detractors or possible Republican challengers. An "'After The Election I Have More Flexibility'" headline was quickly splashed across the top of the Drudge Report, for instance. More interesting than the immediate partisan fallout, however, is what's in store if Obama is truly intent on dealing more decisively on such a sore point in mutual relations.
For Medvedev's sharpest critics, the incident simply drives home the image of the outgoing president as Putin's errand boy. It makes sense that Medvedev, with less than two months left in office, would respond deferentially. (Recall Strobe Talbott's account of the frosty reception that an ambitious President Bill Clinton got from Putin in June 2000, with Russian eyes seemingly fixed on the next U.S. presidential term.) And as the ABC News transcript shows, Obama was clearly directing his comments to Putin, saying, "it's important for him to give me space."
But it will be interesting to see, as Medvedev prepares to make the transformation to the prime minister's seat, whether his domestic rivals try to exploit the "I will transmit this information" moment.
-- Andy Heil